My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Entering New Territory

When Gen la started teaching the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings this Wednesday he stated, “This presentation now is a whole new terrain (lung pa gsar pa) to which I will lead you through”. Since after finishing the Presentation of Collected Topics we have taken our first steps into this strange land. Though we have developed and gathered some tools from travelling in the region of Collected Topics, entering this new territory has left many of us in wonder as we try to stare at the panorama before it comes into focus. For starters the main text, “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings: The Mirror that Illuminates All Phenomenon” (rtags rigs kyi rnam gzhag chos kun gsal ba’i me long) must be memorized. I have been spending a good amount of time in this endeavor. I starting during vacation this summer but I only got 2 out of 20 pages in and so when I started again the first two that I had previously memorized went in rather easily but the new sections are rather difficult. In Collected Topics the defining characteristics were short thus easier to memorized and easier to spit out when needed. On the other hand the defining characteristics in this text are long as hell making it hard to spit. The query stills follows the same format of subject, predicate, reason but the names have changes and when starting the query a more restricted, complex type of style is used, which remind me of those wooden Russian dolls in which one pulls out smaller and smaller dolls from the original.

The basic query of the text is, “the subject sound is impermanent because it is created/ a product, (Tib. sgra chos can mi rtag ste byas pa’i phyir/ Skt. anityah zabdah kRtakatvAt)”. So far in memorization and in debate we have been saying this phrase like it is going out of style. This study seems to be a deeper preparation for the study of Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Dignaga’s Compendium of Valid Cognition (tshad mad rnam ‘grel/ pramANavarttikakArikA). So far we have been taught that all phenomena can be known correctly through two kinds hmm…. I guess you can think of them as consciousness called valid or prime cognition (tshad ma, pramANna): 1) Direct prime/ valid cognition (mngon sum tshad ma/pratyakSa-pramANa) which is a consciousness that perceives its object directly without the medium of concepts, also it is not mistaken and it is new or fresh. It is said that for us normal beings only the first moment (It is believed that they are 64 moments in a blink of eye) of perceiving an object (like a table) is direct but for folks like a Buddha all their perceptions are direct without the medium of concepts 24/7 for all phenomena. 2) Inferential prime/ valid cognition (rjes dpag tshad ma/anumAna-pramANa) which is a consciousness like the one above which is not mistaken and it is fresh but with respect to its object of perception; that object is hidden and it is known in dependence on a correct or valid reason. It is here in the realm of the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings where one first really encounters valid and invalid reason and how to ascertain them and thus to ultimately understand inferential prime cognition.

The classic example is: when one sees smoke on a high mountain pass while approaching it, one correctly ascertains that there is fire. The same holds true with the above query “the subject sound is impermanent because it is created/ a product”. The rub here is that this query is not valid for all people. It is valid to the person who knows what sound is but who doesn’t know that it is impermanent and when the reason is presented to this person they then have an eureka moment leading to them to the understanding that sound is impermanent because it is created. This query wouldn’t be valid for a Buddha because they are said to perceive all phenomenon directly thus of being to no use to such a person. This query is one that also sits at the heart of Buddhism, one of the main assertions of all Buddhist is that “all compounded or created phenomenon is impermanent (‘dus byas thams cad mi tag pa/ sarvaM saMskRtam anityam)” and since sound is a compounded phenomenon it too is impermanent. It is said that since the Vedas are held as being permanent revelatory sound that it is because of this that some Hindu schools assert that sound is permanent.

Back in the day, many of the followers from all the different religions and philosophies that claim India as its place of origin involved themselves in a plethora of debates over their different views. Some these debates took place in the written arena, mainly in the Sanskrit language. One scholar, lets say, from the Jain tradition might read a text by a Hindu scholar and when this person finds points that do not concur with their own they would in turn attempt to refute those points in defense of their own by writing. Of course the scholars from the other traditions will read it thus making their objections or assertions and the process advances. This kind of dialogue happened in ancient India between Hindus, Buddhist and Jains, and also within each respected tradition.

Some of these debates happened face to face in formal dialectical style similar to how we are taught (it said that the loser had to convert to the winner’s religion though, boo hoo), but their query structure was different and both parties sat down thus without the clapping and stomping. Some say that in ole’ skool Indian style debate the challenger snaps his fingers instead of clapping; when Gen la debates us in class he snaps his fingers. We have gotten into the habit of it especially when small informal debates sprout up between us during study period. Tibetans in their mountainous snowy homeland looked to this Indian tradition and adopted it very well but here the language and the style are different. There are a multitude of texts and commentaries written on philosophy doing the same thing as in the Indian tradition. The student tends to be overwhelmed as to the amount of texts there are and to the vociferous writing spirit that these folks had and have.

With the starting of this new study we have switched the view of “our own position (rang lugs)”, where before our own position followed that of Sera Je Monastic College when we studied Collected Topics. Now our own position follows and will follow that for Drepung Loseling Monastic College and thus we distantly taking part in this ancient tradition. These positions might or might be agree with each other. Some folks are quite at odds about studying texts from other monasteries and/or other sects, but for myself I quite enjoy it because it helps me to see what other issues are and how other authors deal with similar issues.

I am enjoying observing how this process is unfolding though it is challenging. I was chatting with our nuns this morning during study period and this new topic had been so far a real brain buster. In debate no matter which way you answer there are problems which lead to contradictions. We are bound to the text that we study so we have to figure out how and why certain assertions are made. Not an easy task by any means. These assertions seem reasonable at first until one starts debating on them and then finds one self very confused, like all of sudden realizing that you have lost your sense of direction. Though in the Presentation of Collected Topics we were also bound to a text it was not so tightly restrictive. And just to think about how we are feeling now recently entering this land, we are really to suffer from severe culture shock when we start traversing through the treacherous terrain of the Perfection of Wisdom (phar phyin, prajJA-pAramitA) course and the Middle Way (dbu ma, mAdhyamaka) course within the next couple of years.

Towards to the end of this week another cold front blew in bringing rain and fogging up our view of the mountain until last night. Again like the previous time the moon had arisen, it was nearly full and the sky was partially cloudy. The range was clearly in full view, just shining like a milky pearl, so after damja I braved the cold breeze to venture to roof of the boy’s dorm and just to let my mind settle like sediment in a river after it has been agitated. The view was spectacular and I just stood there staring at the range solo as long as I could. Though Gen la is now guiding us through the alien realm of the Presentation of Signs and Reasonings last night my thoughts calmed in the realm of the Himalayas.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love reading your posts - thanks for sharing this with us! I hope to get to dharamsala one day!